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Postmedia CEO 'not sure it's the right time' for local ownership of Montreal Gazette


The head of Canada's largest newspaper publisher said he's "not sure it's the right time" to consider allowing a group of local investors to take over the ownership of the Montreal Gazette.

Montreal businessman Mitch Garber has proposed taking over all or part of the newspaper owned by Postmedia Network Corp. to ensure its survival after the company announced more staff cuts are on the horizon as a cost-saving measure.

Postmedia CEO Andrew MacLeod said he has heard what Garber has pitched but doesn't feel like it's a viable solution — at least not right now.

"He did send me an email a couple of weeks ago asking to speak with me. I responded and scheduled some time, and then he cancelled the meeting. So I have not actually spoken directly with Mitch on this topic," MacLeod said in an interview with CTV News on Thursday. 

Since the paper's owner announced in a townhall meeting last month that it would lay off 11 per cent of its 650 editorial staff across the country, sources have told CTV News that the Gazette is poised to be hit the hardest, with a slashing of about 25 per cent of newsroom positions in the coming days.

MacLeod declined to comment on the number of positions that would be eliminated. 


One of the main points of hesitation from his point of view is that Postmedia papers, including The Ottawa Citizen, The National Post, The Calgary Herald and many others, operate under a centralized structure and removing one of those properties from the equation is a complicated endeavour.

"And so at this time, it's not something we're prepared to look at," MacLeod said of the Gazette takeover pitch, adding that he wouldn't say no to considering it in the future and that the company's preference in the short-term is to look at ways to boost print and ad revenues. 

"We welcome the opportunity to have a conversation with [Garber] going forward. But you know, we haven't seen what we would consider a firm or credible offer. And I'm not sure it's the right time for us to look at that for all the reasons I just mentioned."

As advertisers have chosen to allocate more of their dollars to digital entities like Google and Facebook, he said there is a need to balance revenues with costs, which is behind the company's decision to lay off newsroom staff. The Montreal market is Postmedia's third-largest portfolio, he said, stressing it is still "prized" paper for the company. 

"Montreal is a very important market for us. The Gazette is a critical asset that we take great pride in, and we will continue to support it going forward," he said. 

Garber said in a series of tweets Wednesday that his offer to own all or part of the paper had been "ignored" by executives at newspaper chain that owns the Gazette and several other newspapers across the country.

Quebec businessman Mitch Garber, right, speaks at a news conference in Montreal on April 20, 2015 while Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte listens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

He later clarified in an interview with CJAD 800 that he exchanged emails and phone calls over the past two weeks with company executives, and "everyone has ignored that offer, and nobody has gotten back to me."

Postmedia's majority-owner is Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey hedge fund, which has spent years shedding editorial positions across the chain of newspapers to cut down on expenses and pay off millions in debt.

According to Garber, the key to the survival of the Gazette, Quebec's only English-language daily newspaper, is local ownership, which he believes would make the paper more attractive to advertisers. 

"I have a bunch of people who are interested in joining me in participating in any way in owning any piece or any part of the Gazette as long we can help influence its survival and speak to advertisers about supporting the Gazette," Garber said.

West Island MNA Gregory Kelley stood up in the Quebec legislature Thursday to denounce the announced cuts at the Gazette and called on the federal government, which has already delivered tens of millions of dollars to Postmedia in subsidies, to "support" the paper and help reverse the cutbacks.

"The Gazette is an institution that needs to thrive. The English-speaking community wants local news stories from local journalists, not just from Toronto," Kelley said in the Salon Bleu.


Journalism experts say it would be a massive undertaking to take over the paper.

Carleton journalism professor Christopher Waddell says to cut costs, Postmedia has consolidated its staff and that means a new owner would have to handle printing and advertising operations.

"It’s not a question of just going in and saying I’ve got x number of dollars I’m going to buy the paper and then you’ve got to negotiate your own printing contracts and doing other things," Waddell said.

"You need all these people to run a separate operation that are being provided centrally by Postmedia."

Former Gazette journalist Brenda O'Farrell agrees that anyone who buys the paper has a lot of work ahead of them.

"It no longer creates its own pages in Montreal this is all done centralized in Hamilton," she said.

"They’ve decimated their distribution system or network. Personally, where I live, I can’t even buy the Gazette. I was a subscriber. I didn’t cancel the Gazette, they cancelled me."

On Thursday, Postmedia announced the creation of a "Gazette Community Advisory Council," which MacLeod said was in response to the "groundswell of support" in recent days for the 245-year-old paper.

The council, according to a press release, would be made up of politicians, business and community leaders "to offer advice, support and strategies to help drive revenue and will play no role in editorial direction or content."

With files from CTV News Montreal's Matt Grillo Top Stories

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